Project Documentation: Use Headers as an Outlining Tool

I never gave headers much thought when creating project documents in the past. However, I recently decided to use headers to start outlining a document and realized that, previously, I had the wrong idea of how to use them. Using headers as an outline, I could create a document efficiently while working toward a more readable and faster-to-navigate document.

Using Headers as an Outline

Here’s my process.

Starting with the outermost headers, ask yourself what are the overall goals for this document. For example, on my current project, I was tasked with creating a document for our application’s launch. This document would serve as a guide to all the necessary services and functionalities of the cloud computing platform we were using to host our web app.

I knew there were three areas to cover: what to do during the launch; what to do during an issue during the launch; and what to do to see if there’s an issue during launch. At this point, I don’t need to consider the content filling up these sections. I just need to ensure I have clearly defined goals that will help me navigate the soon-to-be document.

Once you’ve defined these outermost headers, begin going through each of them. Repeat a similar question to the previous one: what overall goals must we establish to accomplish this heading? Some information or keywords from the underlying content will start trickling into the headers.

As these are still headings, try to keep details to a minimum. On the flip side, if it feels as if the header is too broad, consider doing another round of headings; there’s no shame in extra readability. If the next round of headings begins to feel like regular sentences and definitions, it may be time to switch back to “Normal” text mode in your document editor.

Structured document example


When defining documents, consider using color. A monotone document may be difficult to navigate. Plus, using screenshots or related pictures can be a nice visual break in the document while providing useful information. Also, if appropriate, consider using emojis in the larger headers; they are typically quicker to find than just plain text (they’re also fun 🥳). Using varying colors of text may be helpful at times, but be cautious with unnecessary usage. Instead of introducing a new color for emphasis, you can typically convey that better with either italics or bold.

Readable Documentation

Using this process, project documentation will feel like a breeze, and the resulting documents will be much more readable. The most important concepts will be easiest to find since they will be written in the largest text with some visual separation. And, when you need more fine-grained information, following the trails of the smaller headings will lead to the necessary content.


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